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Sodium Lauryl Sulfate: What it is and How to Avoid it

We all see those mile-long ingredient lists on shampoos, moisturizers, and toothpastes. We know that many of those ingredients are not safe. Even products labeled “natural” and “organic” contain chemicals that are a little iffy. One of those chemicals is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, or SLS.

What is SLS?

SLS is a surfactant, which means it helps to break down surface tension to create a product that cleans more efficiently. It creates all those suds you get from cleaning products. It’s so effective at doing this that companies often use it in industrial cleaning agents like engine degreaser. However, you’re more likely to find it in your body wash, shampoo, toothpaste, or laundry detergent. SLS also makes it easier for other ingredients to work their way into your skin. In some cases this can be a good thing, but in other cases those ingredients could cause you harm.

The Dangers of SLS

There is quite a bit of recent debate about whether Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is linked to cancer. Currently there is no scientific evidence that shows a link between the two. However, there is evidence that even small amounts can cause harm to the skin.

The American College of Toxicology has a report that shows even concentrations of one-half percent can cause skin irritation. Higher concentrations can cause even worse problems, such as severe irritation and even skin corrosion.

SLS has been linked to eye problems in children, including irritation and poor development. Other findings report that regular exposure to SLS can cause hormonal imbalances in both men and women.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is often included in skincare products because it is inexpensive to produce. It’s not there because it improves the health of your skin or because it does its job particularly well. It simply makes these products “foamy” without costing the manufacturers much money. Your skin deserves better.

Going SLS Free

Small concentrations of SLS are generally considered safe. The problem is that it can build up in the body, which leads to residual levels that can be dangerous. Limiting your exposure to SLS or going completely SLS free is the best way to protect yourself and your family. It’s best to not reach those potentially dangerous levels. You can live SLS free easily in a way that lets you take advantage of some fantastic homemade skincare products.

Your first step in going SLS free is to take a critical look at the products you already own. Because it’s such an inexpensive and effective ingredient, it shows up in a huge amount of the following:

  • shampoos
  • toothpastes
  • cosmetics
  • liquid hand soaps
  • hair dyes
  • bath oils

As you’re looking through your products, keep in mind one thing. A lack of federal regulations for beauty product labeling means just about anyone can make a claim that their product is all-natural. Even so-called “organic” products can hide this ingredient, so watch out.

Your next step is to find replacements for the SLS laden products you used to use. Some manufacturers do offer SLS free products. However, making your own skincare solutions is the only way to really know what you’re being exposed to.

Alternatives to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

There are alternatives to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate that are safe for you and your family. A coconut derivative called Sodium Coco Sulfate is an effective alternative. Another alternative is Sodium Cocoamphoacetate. Recent studies suggest that coconut oil can be a useful surfactant when combined with Yucca schidigera extract. When it comes to SLS free skincare products, one alternative ingredient stands out among the rest.

Castille Soap is the Answer

Here at Better Shea Butter we love experimenting to create amazing, 100% natural recipes that anyone can create at home. When it comes to products that you expect to have a soapy lather, we haven’t found a better ingredient than Liquid Castile Soap.

Castile soap originated in the Castile region of Spain.  The solid form of this soap is believed to have been adapted from a Middle Eastern soap made of olive and laurel oil. European soap makers didn’t have easy access to laurel oil, so they created a new formulation that relied mainly on olive oil. The result is Castile soap, a gentle, natural soap you can use to add a cleansing lather to your skincare recipes.

Try Dr. Bronner Castile Soap

Now, if you’ve ever taken a stroll down a natural skincare aisle, you’ve likely come across Dr. Bronner Castile Soap. They’re the big, colorful bottles with the teeny-tiny lettering. Dr. Bronner was a fascinating man (read more about his life and his philosophy here). His all natural liquid Castile soap has a huge variety of uses in natural and homemade skincare. In fact, the brand originally advertised itself as having over 18 different applications.

While not all of his original uses are still supported today, we definitely recommend the following:

  1. Shampoo: Work a dollop of Dr. Bronner soap into your hair as it is. Or, add it to one of these recipes from My Merry Messy Life. A small warning: shampooing with just the soap can leave your hair a little tangled, so be sure to have conditioner to use afterwards. You can find a great recipe for SLS shea butter conditioner in our free recipe eBook.
  2. Body or Face Wash: Get a full, luxurious, cleansing lather by squirting a bit of Dr. Bronner’s soap onto a facecloth or loofah. This soap is gentle enough to be used on your face, plus its natural ingredients are nourishing for your skin.
  3. Shaving Cream: Use Dr. Bronner’s for shaving your face, legs, and underarms. Simply work a small amount of soap into a lather and apply it to the areas you plan to shave. Rinse the soap off when you’re done, and enjoy your smooth skin.
  4. Laundry Detergent: Avoid irritants by washing your clothes with liquid Castile soap. Combine 1/3 of a cup of soap with a cup of baking soda or Borax, then dilute the mixture with water.
  5. Washing Your Dog: Your four legged friend deserves a safe, natural soap too! Get your pup in the bath, wet him down, then work a generous amount of soap into his fur.
  6. Ant Spray: You might not expect it, but Dr. Bronner’s soap is a great tool for dealing with minor ant infestations. Dilute ¼ cup of his Tea Tree soap in a quart of water and pour into a spray bottle. Spray areas where you notice ants congregating, but be careful to keep the spray away from plants.

In Conclusion

Liquid Castile Soap is a wonderful tool when it comes to going SLS free. It’s so easily accessible and useful in such a wide array of situations! It is remarkably simple to enjoy safe, natural alternatives to potentially harmful skincare products. We encourage you to stay curious and discerning about the ingredients you introduce to your skin. You can also enjoy the benefits that come from using natural, nourishing products.